Pluralistic: 14 Jan 2021

Today's links

The Black Panther self-care method (permalink)

"Self-care" is a commodified notion that sounds like a marketing gimmick to sell you an app or a livestreamed fitness course, but as Lenora E Houseworth writes in Teen Vogue, its roots are in the radical struggle for Black liberation.

The Black Panthers popularized what had been an obscure medical term in the 1960s, using it to refer to everything from mindfulness to yoga to meditation, all practiced by incarcerated Panther leaders like Angela Davis and Ericka Huggins to help survive prison.

After their release, Davis and Huggins created nutrition and movement programs in Black neighborhoods around the country. Over time, this focus on wellness was integrated into the "self-defense" component of the Panthers' 10-point program.

Houseworth quotes Penn state postdoc Maryam K Aziz: "Rather than focusing on the physicality of such moves, the [Black Panther] Party’s martial arts program emphasized appreciating one’s Black body as it was."

This radical tradition carries over to the works of such icons as Audre Lorde, whose writing about surviving cancer and campaigning for civil rights draws an explicit connection between self-care and struggle.

The racially disproportionate trauma of covid and the BLM uprising have increased the need for – and the politicization of – self-care.

Houseworth quotes Pholk Beauty founder Niambi Cacchioli: "If social justice work is your calling, then now is the time to look after your mental and physical wellbeing. There’s plenty of fight ahead of us."

Facebook shows mall ninja gear ads on insurrection articles (permalink)

We hear a lot about Facebook as a platform for manipulation – using machine learning to bypass our critical faculties and trick us into believing things that are bad for us – but the real show is in Facebook's ability to target, not manipulate.

People who hold disfavored views struggle to find one another and mobilize. To find other people that feel the same way as you and make common cause with them to effect political change, you have to reveal your views and suffer social sanction.

Search allows people who hold these views to find one another. If you have a deep feeling about your gender being nonbinary but don't know the words for it, you can search for communities of people who have those words, join them, and discover who you've been all along.

This is why, in this moment, so many ideas are migrating from the fringe to the center: ideas about racial justice, gender identity, alternatives to market systems, etc. People have harbored these views all along, but have held back on expressing them.

Being able to express yourself in private, among people who share your views, is a prelude to going public and putting your case to the wider world in hopes of effecting change.

This goes for ALL disfavored views: not just ones we laud, but also the ones we deplore. Many Americans have nursed secret white supremacism but only whispered about it, because saying it aloud would attract social sanction, with real consequences.

Search let these people find each other. Having formed groups, they were able to brave social consequences and begin to shout about it. When they did, they converted people who were sort-of racist all along to their cause. "Radicalization" is closely related to "convincing."

But search isn't the only way that groups with hard-to-find traits can be discovered: there's also targeting. Ad-tech companies spy on us, ascribe traits to us, then sell the right to target those traits to advertisers.

"Show my ad to midwestern high school cheerleaders"

"To people shopping for a new fridge"

"To the owners of senior dogs"

"To people with diabetes"

"To readers of cyberpunk science fiction novels"

"To people skeptical of Big Tech"

"To Bernie Sanders supporters"

"To violent, Trump-addled conspiracists plotting insurrection"

To be fair, the Facebook ads "for body armor, gun holsters, and other military equipment next to content promoting election misinformation and news about the attempted coup at the US Capitol" were probably not necessarily targeted at "coup plotting" per se.

Rather, they were probably targeting the correlates of "coup plotting" – Maga and Qanon affinities, 2A mania, support for the likes of Steve King or Ted Cruz.

No service operating a FB's scale could predict all of these correlates…


Facebook actually knows about this one. It's one of the minority of these dangerous targeting-pairings that its own internal teams discovered and warned management about, only to met with yawning indifference.

And moreover, no one put a gun to FB's head and ordered to it to acquire, sue, copy, or otherwise predate upon all of its competitors until it was so large it could no longer police its own ads.

Nor was FB forced to spend vast fortunes lobbying against privacy rules that would limit its targeting ability.

People who want to kill CDA230, take note. Facebook agrees with you: they want a rule that forces its rivals to spend money they don't have on moderation.

If you want to hurt FB, look for the things that it lobbies AGAINST: privacy regulations and antitrust enforcement.

Targeting is different from search. The ability to target people who'll buy scammy, expensive products produces profits for the companies who sell them.

Those companies then mobilize those profits, investing them in convincing more people to hold beliefs that earn them money (think of Amazon starting a be-very-afraid crime news service as part of the marketing for its Ring surveillance doorbells).

There's a difference between "being convinced by someone else's odious, sincere beliefs" and "being convinced by someone's cynical, profitable promotion of ideas that they don't believe themselves."

The Macedonian teens who promoted fraudulent "news-stories" during the Trump election didn't care if Trump won or lost – they were just chasing a buck. And messed-up, scared people part with money more readily than stable, calm people.

Targeting creates a business-model: defrauding frightened, traumatized people by scaring them more. It's not an automated process of digital manipulation: it's the result of human beings thinking of lies that they think will make them rich.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Report: Belarusian mobile operators gave police list of demonstrators

#5yrsago US Treasury Dept wants to know which offshore crimelords are buying all those NYC and Miami penthouses

#5yrsago UK Home Secretary auditions for a Python sketch: “UK does not undertake mass surveillance”

#5yrsago The Internet of Things in Your Butt: smart rectal thermometer

#5yrsago How an obsessive jailhouse lawyer revealed the existence of Stingray surveillance devices

#1yrago Podcast: Inaction is a form of action

#1yrago Newton’s Principia Mathematica, George Washington’s journal: archivist stole $8m worth of rare books from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library

#1yrago Schneier: “It’s really too late to secure 5G networks”

#1yrago Med-tech company repossess veteran’s artificial legs because the VA won’t cover them

#1yrago You will be helped! Research using real-world situations fails to replicate the “bystander effect”

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: JWZ (

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